Book #02

Letter from Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King Jr.

'Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.'

This landmark missive from one of the greatest activists in history calls for direct, non-violent resistance in the fight against racism, and reflects on the healing power of love.

Letter from Birmingham Jail is the first book in Penguin’s Modern Classics series, and it’s one filled with powerful and action inducing words from one of history’s greats. Including one letter and one sermon, we not only see MLK’s passion for justice, and understand his methods, but also hear of the importance of loving ourselves and loving others, and hear of his struggles to achieve both.

There’s so much power here, but what I noticed most of all in his letter was the sad fact that things he’s trying to explain to society in the 1960s are things black people are still trying to explain to us now. MLK speaks of police brutality, of just and unjust law, and the white moderate - white people who aren’t racist, aren’t violent towards POCs, but who are still dangerous in their silence, and their contentment to sail alongside the status quo. It’s a familiar message, and although we have made some inroads since the 1960s, it’s a heavy feeling to read MLK’s account and feel we still have a very long way to go to achieve equality and justice.

His sermon Three Dimensions of a Complete Life speaks to us on how to make life whole. Focusing entirely on love, he tells us how to ensure our lives have purpose. When I hear the word sermon, it usually brings for me assumptions of a long lecture or instruction, a tiresome and never ending diatribe. MLK speaks both eloquently and conversationally - he speaks of his own struggles, of times where he hasn’t been the best of men, and this endearing style goes a long way to nurture both engagement, desire for improvement, and action.

This is such an excellent combination of two very differing, yet very important lessons, and such a wonderful start to the Penguin boxset that I’m concerned the others may not live up to its faculty.